18 July 2024

How many prime ministers does Thailand have? It’s a question dramatized by the much-taunted action of Srettha Thavisin who appeared to be kissing a hand of Paetongtarn Shinawatra immediately after she was named the new leader of the Pheu Thai Party, a scene that looks like a film’s ending hinting at a sequel.

“I’m serious,” veteran journalist Suthichai Yoon tweeted after Srettha jokingly asked reporters “which prime minister” they were seeking comments from. “I heard we have two,” Srettha quipped at the time.

“Do we actually have three?” Suthichai asked. His tweet carried a picture of Srettha respectfully bowing before Paetongtarn during the congratulatory scene full of smiles and hand clapping after she officially took the helm of a political empire her father had founded.

Srettha retweeted it, and gave a very short answer. “Just one krub, (and the name is) Srettha Thavisin,” he said. To many people, though, that is not convincing enough. Speculation to the contrary has mushroomed unabated.

The first, and simplest, theory is that Paetongtarn is being groomed naturally for the premiership. She will be a female leader of a political party in a male-dominated politics and that hopefully will help Pheu Thai in the next election, which is expected to be tough for obvious reasons.

The second theory is weird. It has Srettha bowing out at the half-way line to be replaced by her as prime minister. The big reason behind this theory? Two years are better than nothing. If Pheu Thai waits for her to be prime minister naturally, through a massive election victory to be specific, it may have to wait forever or for a very long time.

Maybe a lot of people had this theory in mind and when they saw the hand kissing the belief was strengthened. Apparently, Suthichai’s “three prime ministers” satire referred to Srettha, Paetongtarn and Thaksin Shinawatra.

Former Red Shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan’s comment that Srettha “will be the most pitiful person in Thailand soon enough” was sarcastic, but it carried some truth. First off, a prime minister must be the most feared or most respected person in his or her political party. In Srettha’s case, he will have the backing of party members as long as somebody else says so.

There have actually been YouTube news clips released by well-known media outlets with titles addressing the possibility of Srettha stepping aside after two years. Those who wrote the titles apparently ignored the fact that giving the prime ministerial torch to her half way through is tantamount to a Pheu Thai

suicide. If it happened, champagne corks would be flying at Move Forward’s headquarters.

The third theory is the strangest. It says that what is panning out politically before the Thai public is one big hoax, a smart conspiracy between Pheu Thai and Move Forward. In this theory, Move Forward had done its job by successfully frightening the conservatives into making them embrace Pheu Thai. It has been a two-pronged attack with one common aim _ which is to put this ideological side in power and downgrade the (previous) status quo no matter what.

Some conservatives have begun to buy into this theory. They are uncomfortable with the sight of bigger or lesser “enemies” swarming forward all at once while the “uncle camps” are playing second fiddle. However, the concerned conservatives might have overlooked certain facts that make this theory the most implausible.

The most important fact is that the next time Parliament votes to elect the new prime minister, senators will be out of the way, meaning that if Pheu Thai remains Move Forward’s secret ally, the latter party will have the right to claim the premiership because it’s the biggest and will most likely continue to be so after the next election. The hoax theory, therefore, assumes that Pheu Thai _ whether it’s Srettha, or Paetongtar, or Thaksin _ agree to willingly live under Move Forward’s shadows for God knows how long.

Another thing undermining this theory is the perception that Move Forward can be anything but a good actor. Its bitterness looks too real to be an act of deception.

Yet the next election is interesting. It may be too soon to talk about it, but let’s think about it based on the present circumstances. If you were Pheu Thai and you know that you will possibly lose to Move Forward in the next election but beat all your current coalition partners in the same contest, what would you do?

You would have two choices. Either you went back to Move Forward and say “Forgive me, it’s all yours now”, or you kept the existing frenemies by your side and asked them the same post-May 14 question: “Me or Move Forward?”

Tulsathit Taptim